Not Living Small in Tofino (for a weekend)

 Theo on the deck at the Cloudbreaker House

Theo on the deck at the Cloudbreaker House

I've always shared that while we live small intentionally, we are taking it year by year and sometimes even month by month ensuring that everyone is comfortable and getting what they need. When Trevor and I decided to stay another year in our small space it was with the intention of keeping expenses low to afford more travel even with my new part-time freelance work. Our first family trip of the year on the first weekend of March feels like we are on track for our goal of getting away often in 2018. While Tofino is not a new trip for us, this beautiful west coast town keeps us coming back every year for it's beautiful beaches, open ocean and amazing food. Our Westfalia doesn't have heat and we aren't brave enough to winter camp so we were lucky to stay at a newly built modern home in town, the Cloudbreaker House by Dwell Tofino. We've actually stayed in one of their other properties previously and loved their aesthetic, friendly service and attention to detail. The Cloudbreaker House exceeded expectations and was such a treat for our small living family. 
 

One of the reasons we visit the island so often is my Mom lives there so we get to visit her (I swear our kids would prefer to live with her than us!) and benefit from her and her husband's generous helping hands!  Below are some of our favourite stops in Tofino and a bit more about where we stayed and how we got there with a 4.5 and 1.5 year old.

 Mae and Trevor. Maybe it's just me but this picture just gets to me with it's sweetness.

Mae and Trevor. Maybe it's just me but this picture just gets to me with it's sweetness.

DO:

Beaches: We gear up in layers, Simply Merino, knits, Rain Gear and hit the beach for as long as the kids can stand it. We went to a different beach each day. Chesterman's, Cox Bay and Tonquin Bay (just a short trail walk from our house). We bring nothing and the kid's just wander and climb and throw rocks. 

Bike: Theo just learned to ride a pedal bike so we brought it and Trevor ran beside him on the flat bike path long the main hwy. They also went for a trail bike ride near our house that made Theo completely exhausted which NEVER happens.

Park: We visited the local elementary school playground one evening to run the kids out and local families were all hanging out and were super friendly.

Steam: We didn't make it but Christie of Dwell Tofino recommended a steam at the Wickinnish Inn (kid-less) so we are adding that to our list for our next visit. 

Caravan: I like to pop into this sweet shop when I'm in town. Great for gifts or a reminder of Tofino at home. Sometimes she hosts vintage clothing pop-ups. I found Theo a perfect pair of denim shorts here last summer.

EAT:

Wildside Grill: after the 6 hour trip on Friday my mom had Wildside take-away waiting for us at the house (thanks mom!). We love their gumbo and fish tacos and well, everything.

Kuma: Trevor and I got to sneak away for a dinner at Kuma which was wonderful. It's also kid friendly with crayons and friendly staff. I can't wait to go back and try more items. My incredibly talented friend Layla helps with the wine and sake list and I trust her with all my drinks so want to work our way through that list as well!

Tofitian: best coffee in town in my humble opinion

Tofino Brewing Co: We usually end up here after the beach. Loved their new larger location with more natural light. And love that we can bring the kids. 

 The windows and the landscape I was talking about. at the house. And Mae in her  Petits Vilains .

The windows and the landscape I was talking about. at the house. And Mae in her Petits Vilains.

TRAVEL:

Logistically, Tofino is about a 6 hour trip (each way) from our home in Vancouver when you factor in Ferry travel. While ferries are great for letting kids run around, they add quite a bit of time to the journey. The winding road from Port Alberni to Tofino is just something you have to get through with kids. We bring snacks they can easily eat in their carseat and a loaded ipad and hope for naps. Sometimes they cry and sometimes they sleep but we always find the journey is worth it. We also often tell the kids what great travellers they are. We thank them for being so patient and brave and reward them for this. In our home, being a flexible traveller is high praise. We acknowledge that its boring or tiring but are quick to turn it around and talk about how that makes them such good travellers. Also while we are usually strict with buying new toys we often will let Theo choose a small toy ($3 or so) on the ferry. This small toy is a great incentive (re: bribe) and keeps him entertained after for at least half a day. Mae is too young to know if a toy is new or old so we just give her a small toy of Theo's so she feels included. Oh and we didn't bring a stroller (good idea) and forgot the ergo baby carrier (bad idea).

 Stairs = playgym for these kids

Stairs = playgym for these kids

STAY:

We had the most wonderful stay at the Cloudbreaker House. The size alone (3 bedrooms) was a luxury but there were many details in place to make our stay wonderful. The radiant heated floors, stocked kitchen with every utensil you could imagine including vintage glassware, growlers and fresh, local coffee beans. Modern details like poured concrete counter-tops and floors, warm wood finishes and white walls were the perfect backdrop to our weekend. It truly looks like it should be in a magazine for modern west coast homes but at the same time nothing felt too precious or fragile that I was worried we would break it. The stairs were also a huge hit, ha, a novelty for our apartment dwellers. The kids found a suitcase of duplo that kept them entertained for the weekend which was great and also ironic as the duplo in our home has never been touched. While not on the beach, it is nestled into a rock face in a quiet corner of town. The oversized windows show off the natural landscape that I could stare at all day (why are the ferns so much more beautiful in Tofino?). At  one of the highest points in town there is a view of the nearby mountains and the always changing clouds. Couldn't believe how we lucked out on the weather with sun in March! We even hung out on the deck for a bit. 

Thank you to Christie at Dwell Tofino for hosting us at CloudBreaker House. She has kindly offered 25% off in the off season and 15% in the shoulder season to anyone that mentions 600sqftandababy. If you are looking to book her house in high season send her an email and mention this post and she will try and accommodate you! We loved staying here and I would highly recommend it. Link to Dwell Tofino's website for info and booking here.

 The magical suitcase of duplo. Theo in his  Simply Merino  PJ's.

The magical suitcase of duplo. Theo in his Simply Merino PJ's.

Planning for Portugal

 Image from Nan Hagel Lisbon and Algarve Guide (link  here )

Image from Nan Hagel Lisbon and Algarve Guide (link here)

We are less than a month away from our big adventure to Portugal! I feel a bit behind on planning and packing but I work better under pressure so I know I will get it together at the last minute! 

We were lucky to get direct flights to and from London.  Normally if it was just the two of us I would try and get to Portugal as fast as possible and hop a flight there within a few hours of landing.  But travelling with kids, we decided to get a hotel at the airport so we can clean up, and have a good night's sleep before we take the 2.5 hour flight to Lisbon the next morning. Likewise on the trip home we will stay a night at the airport to ensure we make our flight home as stress free as possible. 

Accommodations
For Lisbon, we have booked 4 nights at an airbnb in the Santa Catarina neighbourhood recommended by The New Domestic.  It's supposed to be a charming neighborhood that is relatively flat by Lisbon standards and central. After Lisbon we have rented a car and will drive to the Algarve Coast.  We have two different rentals in two beach towns about an hour's drive apart. We hope to explore the coast in the car. As we are trying to pack lightly I found a car rental company that rents car seats for a small fee (warning some other car companies were charging huge fees for carseat rentals!).  

When travelling with kids I find it best to plan for the best, but prepare for the worst.  We need our accommodations to be comfortable enough that if we spend more time there than we had hoped (ie. sickness, weather, meltdowns, weird nap schedules) we won't be upset. I made sure all of our rentals have a kitchen and some have a washer and dryer. Doing this on a budget is challenging but hopefully we've made some good choices. So far Portugal seems very kid friendly as all of our accommodations offered a crib free of charge, so we have decided not to bring our travel crib and have one less piece of luggage. 

Stroller
We have an older McLaren umbrella stroller that we plan to bring even though everyone warns me we won't be able to use it in Lisbon.  Even if we just use it in the airports and a couple other times the stroller will be worth it for us to bring.  Especially since Mae tips the scales at 22 lbs now. Because it's older (we bought it second hand and then wore it out) I'm not precious about it and don't care if it gets damaged on the trip.  I wouldn't bring our Bugaboo Bee on a plane, it is my main transportation at home and if something happened to it I would be lost. 

Mapping it Out
I've decided to work on a rough outline of places we would like to visit in each area.  But all of this will be very loose and flexible. Mostly I worry about eating at good places so I'm working on a Google Map of recommended places so that if we find ourselves in a certain neighborhood we don't miss our chance to see or eat something great! (Shout out to reader Madalena for her wonderful suggestions, can't wait to try them!)

Packing
Our big plan is to bring one full size suitcase and one carry-on suitcase for 4 people (+ backpacks and 1 stroller) .  I plan to do this by packing only 4-5 outfits per person in a similar colour palette so everything matches. On the recommendation of a wise friend I picked up some packing cubes and am going to try those for suitcase organization. This will mean limiting shoes for everyone and only packing the diapers we need to get there and buying them in Portugal. I'm going to do a test pack pretty soon to see if everything can fit!! Hopefully our efforts to minimize everyone's closets these past few months has paid off and this won't be so tough. I will hopefully share our packing list here just in case anyone else is planning a Europe trip with a baby and toddler too!

How to survive a plane with a 2.5 year old

We are about to embark on a 5.5 hour flight with a very busy boy. We are lucky we found a direct flight within our budget but the only direct flight leaves at 9am. Ideally an overnight flight would be best for us as there would be hope of sleep. Trapping an energetic 2.5 year old in a seat for this long brings waves of panic. So we need to be prepared. 

Most importantly we are armed with a new computer for him that is a treat for him to use especially for long periods of time. We are hoping this will keep him busy for a couple hours. Back up plans include trains, colouring books, water wow and lots of snacks. Wishfully I have packed a blanket in the hope he will nap. Wish us luck and I’ll report back on how we fare. 

 Any last minute tips or tricks are welcome

And in case you were curious here’s most of the clothes I packed for a week in Tulum!

Camping Shout Out

Reminiscing about our camping trip down the coast, I realized I forgot to thank a very important work horse that we almost didn’t take with us; our good old Pack and Play!  This bad boy has been with us to Mexico, Tofino, San Francisco and beyond.  In retrospect I wish we had invested in a lighter travel crib like the Phil & Ted’s Traveller (here) particularly for air travel, but we were gifted this pack and play from my mom and we have definitely got great use out of it.

For our camping trip, we threw it in at the last moment and I’m not sure we would have enjoyed ourselves as much without it.  It JUST fit in the Westfalia between our bed and the front seats.  This allowed us to put Theo safely to bed, even when he thought he should be staying up much later and we didn’t have to worry about him crawling out of bed and hurting himself or pulling apart the van.

He did manage to grab a bag of red grapes one night and mush them all into his bedding before kindly knocking on the van door to let us know he had made a big mess (such a considerate monkey).

So thank YOU Pack and Play for fireside grown up time while camping with a toddler!!

Toddler Camping Survival Kit

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Camping with a toddler is hilarious and tiring or at least it is with our busy guy. So on the last day I took stock of what we brought that was so valuable on a week long road trip living in a van.

1) Kiddie Laptop (source here) - This is our secret weapon.  We save it for meals out or long drives so it is a prized toy in our home.  This lap top plays music, the alphabet and animal games.  It kept him entertained for at least 3 hours of our 7+ hour drive. I owe it my sanity.

2) Lollacup - our favourite cup (here) made sure Theo was always hydrated

3) Ball - entertainment at the campsite and the beach, we couldn’t have survived without this ball. 

4) Run Bike - the family friendly campground we stayed at had lots of safe roads for run biking and the more rustic campsite made for great off-roading adventures (bike here).

5) Bubbles - enough said

6) Small Toys - We brought a couple of cars that kept him occupied and bought a rubbery dinosaur on the road that was a big hit mostly because it was new.  I would definitely recommend buying a small new toy on the road or saving one for half way through that they haven’t seen before.

7) Stickers  - Lifesavers! Seriously, we brought some stickers and ran out on the first trip down so we picked up this Melissa and Doug (here) pack of reusable stickers that got us through the rest of our trip.

We did it!

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6 days camping and over 1000km with an almost two year old, it was a bit ambitious for our first family camping trip but We Did It!.  We were so happy to get away and get outside and we fell a bit in love with the Westfalia van we rented.  I don’t know if I would recommend a 30 year old van for everyone, it has its squeaks and quirks but the bed was super comfy and kept us warm and dry.  I loved that it drove like my first car, an ‘83 Volkswagen Rabbit convertible (yes I was THAT girl).  We had to stop every 3 hours or so to let the van rest and cool down which was fine because that was usually when Theo needed to get out and run around.

Letting Theo run free on the beach and be outside aaaaall day was worth any of the trouble of packing or driving.  Plus after living out of a van for a week our 600sqft apartment feels like a palace :). 

Our friends joined us for a couple days and their super cute ‘69 dodge converted camper van.  Everyone in the campsite had van envy.

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Road Trip Champ

This kid was a champion road tripper.  7 hours + stops each way and he kept his cool and himself entertained for most of it.  It was HOT with no A/C in an ‘88 Westfalia on top of it all!  My fears about road tripping with this guy were unfounded.  Back to reality and work tomorrow but I will share more of our trip and lessons learned for camping in a van with a toddler this week. 

Road Trip!!

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Recently I wrote about keeping a promise to ourselves to do one big plane trip before Theo turns two.  Well, life got in the way, I couldn’t get enough time off of work to make the long haul flight worth it.  We also realized that flying in high season to europe doesn’t really save us a lot of money even if Theo’s fare is free.

So we made a plan B and rented a VW Westfalia for a week and plan to road trip down the Coast to Oregon.  We have a campsite booked for the first few days and then we are going to wing it. 

While Trevor is an experienced camper (he once slept in an igloo overnight that he and his friends made! hardcore!), I am not. And neither of us is experienced in camping with a toddler so it will definitely be an adventure!  To be very honest, we have been having some power struggles with Theo lately, he is a very bright, energetic, strong-willed boy but that has led to some behaviour that we aren’t too pleased with (yelling and hitting).  We are hoping some time just the 3 of us on the beach and in the woods will be just what we need to reset and focus on Theo and his terrible two’s.  

We’ve also been considering swapping our small car for something that could double as a weekend getaway vehicle.  We are weighing the pros and cons of renting one a few times a year vs. owning one outright.  This trip will hopefully be a great way to test out van camping and see if it’s all we think it will be.

Hope you’ll follow along…

I’ll post our adventures oninstagramand share lessons learned back here.

Friends with Kids

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We feel pretty lucky to have friends without kids who still want to hang out with us.  We have no illusions about how life with a kid is more work than our carefree single lives but we will be the first to say we have never laughed so much since Theo came into our lives. 

It takes special friends to want to travel with a toddler that is not their own.  Mary and Joel (here,here and instagram) are those people.  They were our amazing wedding photographers 4 years ago (photos here) and we have been friends ever since.  They are also fellow small space dwellers, switching between 400 sqft and 150sqft spaces or adventuring out of their van.  Endlessly talented and inspiring, they were off duty this weekend but like most artists they never really take a break. They managed to capture the most beautiful real moments with just their iPhones and of course generously shared them with us.

Here is our long weekend away through their eyes…

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Too many car rides

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Theo loving the windy ferry ride.

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always up for hugs

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Cathedral Grove in the mist

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